Monday, 31 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day Five

Wednesday 26 December, Boxing Day

An earlier start today, slipping away from our moorings at 8.15, before the sun was fully up even. It was a beautiful clear morning, which turned into a lovely sunny day.

Once we got to the top of the locks at Marston Doles, we started meeting boats coming up. First was Crofton, currently an OwnerShips boat although it's being sold out of the scheme (cruiser stern, reverse layout, built 2002, £55,000 if you're interested). Then came Ten Bob Note, with just time for a quick chat with Rhonda on the tow path, and a yelled hello to Ernie, who was steering.

We stopped for water at the bottom of the flight. The first tap was incredibly slow, so we swapped to the other one which had much better pressure. Then we moved on a bit before stopping for a lunch of leftovers, before heading back to Napton Junction, Calcutt Locks, and Stockton Top Marina. We'd have loved to have stayed on board longer, but work was calling the next day.

11 miles, 12 locks. (40,42)

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day Four

Tuesday 25 December, Christmas Day

Not a white Christmas, but a wet one. It had rained all night, and was still raining when we slipped away from our mooring at about 9am. We were soon starting our ascent of the day's locks, including picking our way through the boats moored above Broadmoor Lock.

By the time we'd reached the top of the Claydon Locks, at about 11am, the rain had stopped. There was plenty of water flowing into the canal from all the feeders. At the Fenny Compton "tunnel", the water coming down one feeder was leaving a rather unpleasant looking scum on top of the water.

We carried on moving until we reached our chosen mooring (identified on the outward journey), between Bridges 130 and 129. When we passed here in the summer, it was completely full. Today, there was just one other boat, belonging to the canal artist Jane Selkirk. As the day wore on, two more boats joined us.

It was about 2pm when we stopped, so we cracked open the champagne, started cooking the turkey, and opened our presents. It was a bit of a struggle fitting everything in the oven, and the roast potatoes seemed to take longer than expected, but it was a great Christmas dinner, eaten to a spectacular sunset.

9 miles, 8 locks. (29, 30)

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Part Three

Monday 24 December, Christmas Eve

We'd planned a relaxed start to the day, as our aims were very unambitious. We wanted to spend Christmas Eve in Cropredy, which was only a couple of hours away at most. We had considered going to Banbury before turning, but the very short days meant there wasn't really enough time. Even so, we were away from our moorings by 9.30.

The temperature had risen over night, and all the ice had melted. We'd soon dropped down the four locks, and were turning at the winding hole at Cropredy Wharf. We had to wait a few minutes for another boat to fill up with water, before we moved onto the water point.

While the tank was filling, I popped over the the Bridge Stores, to see if they had any coal. They did, although not the usual 25kg bags of Taybrite or Pureheat. The 10kg bags of smokeless fuel from what appeared to be a local coal merchant were also more expensive than usual. But, once we were using it, it seemed like good stuff, seeming to burn much more slowly than either of the more common brands.

Once the tank was full, we went back up Cropredy Lock, and moored just above it.

We were moored up by 12.30, and paid another visit to the shop for some provisions before lunch. Then in the afternoon, we went for a walk around the village and southwards along the canal. The village sign is surprisingly new, and was apparently put up to commemmorate two events which were two years apart, the millennium and the Queen's golden jubilee.

In the evening, we had a good meal at the Red Lion, before going to sleep to the sound of the church bells, which started ringing a good 45 minutes before the 11pm service.

2 miles, 5 locks (20, 22)

Friday, 28 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day Two

Sunday 23 December

We woke to a heavy frost and a frozen canal.

We were underway just after 9am, once we'd managed to break enough ice to get away from the bank. For the first hour or so we were ice-breaking. It wasn't very think, but pushing a way through makes a lot of noise, and it made getting round some of the Oxford Canal's notoriously tight bends quite difficult. Later, we were able to follow the tracks of another boat which had already done the hard work. As the morning wore on, the mist lifted, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day.

Then at Fenny Compton the weather changed. As we went through the narrows, we found ourselves in fog and the temperature dropped. We passed a couple of other boats, including one with a helmsman dressed in shorts! We stopped for lunch just above the Claydon flight, and while we were stationary the sun burned away the fog. In the afternoon, we tackled the locks. There was still frost on the balance beams, and ice on the ground.

We moored for the night on the straight section below the locks. It wasn't yet half past three, but the light was soon fading. We watched a DVD, and ate on board.

12 miles, 5 locks. (18, 17)

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Christmas Cruise - Day One

Saturday 22 December

I left home at 7am, and arrived at Stockton Top marina a couple of hours later after a trouble-free drive. The first thing I did once on board Debdale was light the fire, as the boat had been unused for a couple of weeks. Then I unloaded the car and unpacked. Next was a trip to Rugby Station, to pick up Adrian who'd stayed overnight in London after a work Christmas party.

We finally left the marina at 11.45, and were surprised to see quite a few boats coming the other way. It was a cold, fairly dull day, but still as we went up Calcutt Locks.

At Napton Junction, we turned right onto the Oxford Canal, and were soon going up the locks. At the third one, we got something round the prop, so once the lock was full we stayed in the chamber to investigate, and found a large white nylon sack, which was fortunately easily removed using the boathook. We didn't see another boat through the locks, but there was evidence that someone else had been up before us as a number of the locks had their top gate left open.

We got to the top in a couple of hours and moored for the night. Then we had a move along a bit, in order to get a satellite signal. We wouldn't normally have bothered, but both wanted to see the final of Strictly Come Dancing! We put up our battery powered Christmas lights, to add a festive flavour to the boat, and settled down to what was forecast to be a cold night.

6 miles, 12 locks.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Merry Christmas

One more day of work tomorrow, then we'll be off to spend Christmas on boat Debdale. We plan to head south on the Oxford Canal, and if all goes to plan we'll spend Christmas Eve night at Cropredy. Unfortunately work will interfere again much too soon, as I have an early shift on 27 December. In the mean time, I'd like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

OwnerShips' New Website

OwnerShips has a new website. It vastly better looking than the old one (although it seems to have gone live without absolutely everything working properly!)

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Llamas and pigs

Next to the water point at Fosse Wharf is a field of llamas. The neighbouring pen is home to lots of little black pigs.

But it seems their future is in doubt. A story published in the Leamington Courier reports that the owners are having a battle with the local council over planning permission, not for the animals, but because the humans live on the site.

The llamas and pigs will be there for a while though, because the appeal isn't due to be heard until the end of April next year.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Sump thing understood

I'm grateful to Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons for providing an answer to my query about the name for the low points (topographically speaking) of the canals. It seems that the stretch of canal between two uprising locks is called the "sump pound" -- and it appears that they're few and far between (although the Grand Union has two).

Saturday, 8 December 2007

December Cruise - Part Three

Day Four - Tuesday 4 December

We left our moorings at Cape Locks at 9.30, and made two brief stops in Warwick: one at Kate Boats for a bag of coal, and one at Tesco for a new bucket (to replace one that's leaked the whole time we've had a share in Debdale). In Leamington, we had a huge piece of clear polythene hooked on the rudder. We got it off with the boat hook and kept it on board so it didn't make its way back into the water. But things still didn't seem right, so when we stopped for lunch below Radford Bottom Lock, Adrian had a look down the weed hatch and found a lot more polythene wrapped round the prop. Fortunately it wasn't hard to get off. After lunch, we set off up the locks, sharing just one (and that was with a single handed boater).

At one point, two British Waterways boats were coming towards us. The front one appeared to have no-one steering, and only moved over at the last minute. It turned out to what looked like a floating generator being pushed by a little tug boat, who's steerer couldn't see over the top of it. As it passed, he mouthed an apology. We thought it might have been better if he'd been towing rather than pushing, or let the other boat go in front.

The last locks of the day were the Bascote Locks, including the staircase pair. It's the only staircase on the Grand Union.

We moored for the night just past Bridge 27, as the wind got up, and admired the sunset.

9 miles, 12 locks (21,34)

Day Five - Wednesday 5 December

It had turned into a wild night with strong winds and heavy downpours. But by the time we set off at around 9.30 it had cleared up (although it was still breezy). We went up two locks, then stopped for water at Blue Lias. As we filled up, two Kate Boats came past bound for their base at Warwick, having had their bottoms blacked at Stockton Top. Apparently two more boats were on their way in the opposite direction, and the two crews would swap when they met half way.

The Stockton Locks were done quickly as they were all in our favour. We passed just one boat coming the other way. We'd been asked to moor ourside Stockton Top, ready for a pump out and diesel. The straight edge isn't quite long enough, so the stern was sticking out a bit as we tied up. It was at this point that Adrian fell in. He'd been taking the stern rope back to the boat when I heard a yell and a splash. He wasn't hurt, but the coldness of the water had come as a bit of a shock. A hot shower was in order.

We cleaned the boat, had lunch on board, before packing and heading home (through very heavy rain). The marina was pretty full, despite many OwnerShips boats being at Braunston for their winter maintenance.

2 miles, 10 locks (23, 44)

Friday, 7 December 2007

December Cruise - Part Two: Warwick

Day Three - Monday 3 December continued

It was mid morning when we moored up for the day above the Cape Locks, so we headed into Warwick. We'd heard that the Saltisford Arm was being used for winter moorings, so we walked along the towpath and up the arm, to see how busy it was. It was absolutely full of boats, including three pairs of hotel boats, Duke and Duchess, Oak and Ash, and Dawn and Dusk. In town, we had a good lunch at a cafe called The Tuckery, before heading to Warwick Castle.

At £15.95 each, the entrance fee is somewhat eye watering. But there is plenty to see, including the Great Hall and State Rooms, a depiction of a weekend party from 1898, and the towers and ramparts. The rooms had all been decorated for Christmas.

There was a funfair being built in the courtyard, and the Conservatory and Peacock Garden was closed for the construction of an "ice trail". According to the leaflet this will enable the garden to glide past you, which sounds like quite a feat, even for the Tussauds group!

After our visit to the castle, we returned to the boat via Cape Road. In the evening, we had dinner at the Cape of Good Hope. The food was pretty good, but the staff could have been more welcoming.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

December Cruise - Part One

Day One - Saturday 1 December

We were up early and left home at 7.30, heading for Stockton Top. We arrived a couple of hours later, and found Debdale on the mooring outside the marina (facing in the wrong direction as usual!) We unloaded the car, and set off at 10am bound for the Stockton Locks. We'd decided to go this way as we hadn't done this route for a while, and because of stoppages in other directions. The weather was far better than forecast, with blue skies and wintery sunshine.

As we left the second on the Stockton Locks, we noticed a boat just starting its decent. So we re-set the second lock for them, and waited in the third lock. It turned out to be another OwnerShips boat, Castleber, which is a reverse layout cruiser stern. The only boats we met coming up were two single handers: they were a couple taking a friend's boat to Wigram's Turn to be sold. As the four boats crossed in the short pound, it almost looked like a busy day.

Having reached the bottom of the flight, plus Shop Lock and Itchington Bottom Lock (which are very close but don't seem to be counted as Stockton Locks), we moored up for lunch just past Bridge 26. We also got the fire going, as the boat was pretty cold. In the afternoon, we did the four Bascote locks and moored up for the night just through Bridge 29. We last moored in this lovely quiet spot in a hire boat in May 2006.

4 miles, 14 locks.

Day Two - Sunday 2 December

A lazy start as the weather was awful. We had a lie in listening to the rain pounding on the roof, then had eggs and bacon for breakfast. But the rain cleared earlier than forecast, and we decided to set off at 11am. Almost immediately a shower came over, but it proved to be the only one. The first lock, Welsh Road Lock, looked slightly odd, with the balance beams in under-coat grey.

As time went on, the weather improved, and soon the sun was out. At Wood Lock we met Castleber coming back (partnered with another boat) , and another OwnerShips boat, Sojourn, was waiting to come up. Then it was onto the Fosse Locks. We stopped after the top one to take on water.
The last lock of the day was Radford Bottom Lock, which dropped us onto the Leamington Pound, the lowest point of the canal in these parts. We wondered if there was a name for the low pounds, equivalent to "summit pound", but if there is we couldn't think of it.

The stretch into Leamington Spa was into a very strong head wind. At times, it felt as though we weren't making any progress at all, and the canal appeared to have waves. The moorings before Bridge 40 in Leamington are very scruffy, so we went through the bridge to the slightly nicer looking ones. We had a late lunch on board, then walked into Leamington to have a look round the town and the shops.

4 miles, 6 locks (8, 20)

Day Three - Monday 3 December

A bright, still morning, but quite cold. We set off at 9am through the outskirts of Leamington, and over the River Avon. There's a plan to make the river navigable up to this point, and this is where there would be some sort of connection between it and the Grand Union. The Stratford and Warwick Waterways Trust, which is behind the idea, says it would be done by building some sort of boat lift.

We were soon going through Warwick, and up the Cape Locks. We continued to the junction of the Saltisford Arm (or more accurately, the junction of the Warwick & Napton and Warwick and Birmingham canals), where we winded and retraced our steps to the top of the Cape Locks. We hadn't seen another moving boat all day.

We spent the rest of the day in Warwick, of which more later.

4 miles, 2 locks (12, 22)